Sunday, February 27, 2005

Hollywood Narcissism

We took our yearly pass on the Oscars tonight. No doubt somebody cared about this annual celebration of Hollywood narcissism and tastelessness, but it wasn't us.

How You CanTell

IMAO lists ten indictors that you may be left of liberal. There's a chuckle or two in the list. Thanks to Cheat Seeking Missiles for the tip.

Rescuing Our Schools

American high schools are obsolete says Bill Gates, but this is really not news. That schools aren't doing the job we'd like has been common knowledge for decades. The question is why, and what can we do to fix them:

The nation's governors offered an alarming account of the American high school Saturday, saying only drastic change will keep millions of students from falling short. "We can't keep explaining to our nation's parents or business leaders or college faculties why these kids can't do the work," said Virginia Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, as the state leaders convened for the first National Education Summit aimed at rallying governors around high school reform.

Most of the summit's first day amounted to an enormous distress call, with speakers using unflattering numbers to define the problem. Among them: Of every 100 ninth-graders, only 68 graduate high school on time and only 18 make it through college on time, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

Once in college, one in four students at four-year universities must take at least one remedial course to master what they should have learned in high school, government figures show.

The most blunt assessment came from Microsoft chief Bill Gates, who has put more than $700 million into reducing the size of high school classes through the foundation formed by him and his wife, Melinda. He said high schools must be redesigned to prepare every student for college, with classes that are rigorous and relevant to kids and with supportive relationships for children.

"America's high schools are obsolete," Gates said. "By obsolete, I don't just mean that they're broken, flawed or underfunded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools - even when they're working as designed - cannot teach all our students what they need to know today."

Summit leaders have an ambitious agenda for every state: to raise the requirements of a high school diploma, improve information sharing between high schools and universities, and align graduation standards with the expectations of colleges and employers. Governors say they're in a position to unite the often splintered agendas of business leaders, educators and legislatures.

But such changes will take what Gates singled out as the biggest obstacle: political will. Requiring tougher courses for all students, for example, could face opposition from parents and school officials, particularly if more rigor leads to lower test scores and costly training.

Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., said the most reliable predictor of success in college is a student's exposure to challenging high school courses - and that governors know they must act.

Unfortunately, if the question is why schools are broken and what can we do to fix them, then the governors' summit was like a meeting of the band on board the Titanic to discuss which songs to play as the ship sinks into the sea. The problems which beset high schools are not problems either high schools or state governments are equipped to solve. Student learning is a function of student attitude which in turn is shaped by the culture in which students live. We can redesign and restructure schools to our heart's content, just as an aquarium staff can create a beautiful coral reef for their tropical fish, but if the water the fish swim in is toxic, they will not thrive.

Collapsing family structures, a depauperate entertainment culture, both affluence and poverty, an inability on the part of schools to set and enforce high standards of discipline, a legal system eager to haul an administrator or teacher into court at the slightest provocation, and a society which views education as the least important task that schools perform, all poison the cultural water in which our children swim and make it exceedingly difficult for schools to do their job.

Until we change the water, all the expressions of concern, all the tough tests and challenging courses the schools can muster, all the changes Bill Gates and others envision, are just so many fingers in the dike. The problem is not with our schools, it is with our culture, and any reform efforts which fail to recognize this fact will simply be a waste of time and money.